Yutong (Mary) Dai, a graduated senior at Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS), won a gold medal at the 50th International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO), which began this year on July 19 in Slovakia and concluded on July 29 in the Czech Republic. Mary is one of the four members of the U. S. team, and helps the U.S. continue its dominance in chemistry on the world stage, winning four gold medals for the second year in a row. Mary will be starting college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this fall.
As soon as she learned of the results, Mary texted her parents, who had been eagerly waiting to hear the news. “I’m so proud that we as a team won four golds,” Mary said. “It’s so exciting.”
Started in 1968 in the former Czechoslovakia, the International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO) is an annual competition for the world’s most talented chemistry students at the secondary school level. Nations around the world send a team of four students who are tested on their chemistry knowledge and skills in a five-hour laboratory practical and five-hour written theoretical examination that are held on separate days. The top-scoring 35 students, around 12% of those extraordinary chemistry talents from 76 teams, won the gold medal by combing the performances in both exams this year.
The competition for the U.S. team was fierce, beginning with a multiple-choice exam taken by nearly 17,000 high school students across the country. The top 1,000 then advanced to take the National Chemistry Olympiad (USNCO) test. From there, the top 20 went on to a two-week long study camp at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where four were selected for the team along with two as alternates.
“Mary has a keen interest in chemistry and research,” said Dr. Steven Chen, Mary’s chemistry teacher and research mentor at PRISMS. “In fact, she is a well-rounded student with passion for chemistry and chemistry research.” Mary is an all-A student in PRISMS. While taking AP Chemistry in her sophomore year, Mary proposed to develop an easy-to-use test strip for detection of formaldehyde in cosmetic products, such as nail polish, and also indoor air. In order to prepare herself to be an independent researcher, Mary took all of the advanced post-AP chemistry electives in PRISMS, including Inorganic & Analytical Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. Benefitting from the unique two-year research mentorship program at PRISMS, Mary had the chance to work on her formaldehyde project in Dr. Chen’s research lab and share her progress in several academic conferences in her junior and senior year. “Doing chemistry is beautiful, not only solving the problems, but also exploring something you don’t know”, Mary said. Majoring in chemistry and chemical engineering, Mary will continue her journey of chemistry exploration in MIT this fall.
Dr. Chen, who in addition to his work at PRISMS is also an experienced coach of chemistry competitions. “I am more like a “MOTIVATOR” or a "MENTOR" – helping students to realize, develop and maximize their potentials, and then achieve excellence in chemistry.” said Dr. Chen. Under the guidance of Dr. Chen, Mary earned the Honor Award in her sophomore year, scoring in the top 150 in the nation in the USNCO, and then advanced into the study camp (top 20) in her junior year. She did not stop challenging herself; she finally made the team and won the IChO gold medal in her last year in PRISMS.
Located on Lambert Drive off Rosedale Road, PRISMS is a highly selective, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-focused international boarding and day school for grades 9-12. It was founded in 2013, with its third graduating class of 18, this June. Founded on the concept of combining best practice of China’s STEM education and America’s STEM education, PRISMS emphasizes the research process and the acquisition of research skills, such as open-minded inquiry, critical-thinking, problem-solving, innovation, intellectual honesty, and risk-taking.